Does Your Suit Fight Credit Card Skimmers?

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Does Your Suit Fight Credit Card Skimmers?

06/07/2016
Stolen identity. It's something we all fear, and it's on the rise. If you've ever had your credit card or other ID stolen, you know how expensive and time-consuming it can be to get your affairs back in order.

And if you're a guy in a sharp-looking suit, well, heck, you're probably an even more valuable target. Today, technology provides more opportunities for the bad guys to pilfer your data — but also more opportunities for the good guys to stay one step ahead.

Enter Hardwick Clothes, America's oldest maker of tailored clothing, whose latest offering is the first of its kind in the industry. The clothing maker partnered with Germany-based Kufner on a made-for-textiles version of the Faraday cage — designed to block electric fields — realizing its potential to provide a layer of security in suit coat and blazer pockets, where men carry their wallets. Hardwick obtained the exclusive rights in North America for the technology from Kufner, which originally developed related technology for the German military. If you're wearing one of its high-end H-Tech suits or blazers, no one can skim the data from your credit card.

It's an innovation worthy of James Bond. The technology, dubbed the Hardwick H-Tech Privacy Pocket, is the latest development from the 136-year-old company, which boasts a long history of adapting to change. Its 175,000-square-foot facility features a high-tech testing and collaborative design space — a facility more typical of Silicon Valley than the Smokey Mountains.

Indeed, Hardwick, founded in 1880, has faced its share of challenges, including factory fires, The Great Depression, two world wars and, more recently, competition from offshore sourcing and a waning interest in tailored clothing as the "business casual" trend took hold, says Jake Cremer, director of brand and digital strategy. (Interesting factoid: during the Great Depression, as demand plummeted, the company reduced costs by moving its sewing operations into workers' homes, delivering fabric and picking up finished product via truck.)

In 2014, after struggling for several years, the company was acquired by a Cleveland, Tenn., entrepreneur, Allan Jones, and it switched gears — rather than try to compete on price, Hardwick decided to establish itself as a "great American brand," says Cremer, going "up market" to reach a different type of customer through better men's specialty stores and via hardwick.com, by modernizing its factory and improving quality. "We've also introduced new fits to appeal to different markets and we're sourcing beautiful fabrics from some of the best mills in Italy," he says, adding that the company is also developing its own hightech fabrics with mills throughout the world.

It's an approach that has proven successful, he says. To wit: the company recently won Garden & Gun's "Made in the South Award" for its Super 150s Italian Blazer. "It's of a quality Hardwick wasn't [previously] known for and it retailed at twice our normal price point," says Cremer. "It had a 90 percent sell through in just a couple of weeks."

As its product has evolved, so has its customer, and the Hardwick brand is a distinct part of its selling power. "Our heritage is important to our customers, as well as the fact that we continue to make our product in the United States; they want to know that their purchase contributes to more than 300 jobs in Cleveland, Tennessee. … People appreciate integrity and a story," says Cremer.

This is also a crowd that expects its clothing to "perform like its smart phones," he says, "and so we've tried to take the same approach." Prime example: the H-Tech Pocket; but also, the company has focused on comfort, incorporating performance features such as stretch and wrinkle resistance into what were once considered basic suits, he says.

"Every season we try to identify emerging fashion trends with an American sensibility," says Cremer. "We're still focused on fabric, however there's a special effort to see how we can improve the interior components of the garment, in both quality and performance — items customers can't necessarily see, but they can tell [a difference] by the way it feels."

In particular, for spring 2017, Hardwick has identified a new type of chest piece for its garments that improves comfort. "Traditionally, a chest piece was made out of a stiff horse hair to give structure to the garment, but it came at the cost of stiffness and weight," says Cremer. By contrast, Hardwick's new canvas chest piece incorporates a newly developed fiber along with the horsehair that makes it much lighter in weight and softer to the touch. "The result is a jacket that feels less like a tailored jacket and more like your favorite sweater," he concludes.
— Jordan K. Speer


Editor's Note: Read up on all of our 2016 Top Innovators here.